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Middletown Life

Middletown YMCA opening this fall

Apr 12, 2023 12:39PM ● By Tricia Hoadley
By Ken Mammarella
Contributing Writer

The Middletown area really, really, really wants a full-fledged YMCA. Really.

The YMCA of Delaware has offered limited programs in Middletown since 2017, and a survey by the Gillwright Group, which has done a lot of work for Ys around the country, “showed there was a higher demand for a YMCA in the Middletown community than anywhere else in the country and any previous survey they had done,” said Bev Lacy, chief development officer for the YMCA of Delaware. “There was just an overwhelming desire for a community center with access to pools and recreation.”

So that’s what the Middletown-Odessa-Townsend area is getting: a $26 million project, featuring a 56,000-square-foot building with a pool, a gym with a full-size basketball court, multiple fitness studios, a STEM room for youth, a children’s adventure zone and a community education room.

Outside there will will be two full-size basketball courts, six pickleball courts, a playground and a splash pad. A 4,250-square-foot indoor/outdoor fitness space has a large garage door dividing that space that can be opened or closed, depending on the season.

The new facility, at 202 E. Cochran St., is on 10 acres, near the Middletown library, Silver Lake Elementary, the Silver Lake pool and various sports fields. It will be a major element of a walkable downtown, and leaders of the Y have had a lot of talks with leaders of the other nearby facilities about how they can help each other. An obvious one is parking, with the Y adding 398 spaces.

The Middletown Y now has about 2,460 members, and Y leaders expect eventually to serve 15,000 people through membership, community-based programs, before and after school enrichment, youth sports and summer camp.

Money well spent

The YMCA of Delaware was founded in 1891 and in 2017 began offering programming in rented space in Middletown and Appoquinimink district schools. That outreach recognized Middletown’s growth, from less than 1,300 people in 1890 to more than 23,000 today.

When it expanded to rented space in Middletown, its then-CEO predicted the Y would have its own building in three to five years. But when the pandemic hit in 2020, “the entire organization focused on Covid relief,” Lacy said, such as switching to virtual fitness programming, helping distribute food from the Food Bank of Delaware to the needy and ensuring that childcare continued.

The reaction to the pandemic also encouraged Y leaders to rethink the project, such as developing that space for outdoor fitness programming, rather than just corralling part of a lawn or a parking lot.

The two-story building, constructed to allow for future expansion, will be smaller than the Bear-Glasgow Y but larger than the Dover and Western Ys.

It has impressed leaders of other Ys. Chris Ryan, vice president of buildings and properties for the YMCA of Delaware, said he fielded calls from as far away as Oklahoma. “They can’t believe what we’re getting,” he said, acknowledging that rising costs for supplies and labor and evolving ideas have pushed up the budget. “They’re so impressed with our final cost for this facility.”

The Y has raised $6 million from private individuals and corporations. Middletown owns the 10 acres the Y sits on and is renting it for $1 a year for 60 years, which the Y considers to be a $3.2 million value. The state has given $1 million, aimed at the outdoor campus, making those facilities open to the public, plus another $500,000 in the bond bill.

A capital campaign is continuing, with the Y offering 29 categories of naming rights, from $2 million-plus for the building itself to $3,000 for trees.

What’s inside, outside and inside and outside

The new facility will have multiple “universal” elements, meaning that they accommodate people with special mental or physical needs – and people without such needs. Hence, they’re universal. One is a universal locker room, for adults accompanying youth and for members with special needs.

The YMCA of Delaware is debuting three features in Middletown.

• A 3,500-square-foot splash pad features water cannons and jets, interactive fountains, a spinning toadstool, a raindrop bullfrog and a foam geyser. With zero entry and virtually no standing water, it’s universal as well, since it is wheelchair-friendly and welcomes nonswimmers. “The new site provides a fun and safe space for children with all abilities to enjoy play time with each other,” Tamisha Hopkins, the Middletown Y’s executive director, said in July in when it opened.

• The indoor adventure zone will feature a climbing structure, with tables and chairs nearby for children and their adults to play games.

• The indoor-outdoor workout area, covered in a forgiving artificial turf, follows “the trend in physical activities for YMCAs across the country to take advantage of outdoor space,” Ryan said.

Mission statement and imagination

Although the Y might be known best for sports, recreation, exercise equipment and classes, the Y’s mission statement is “to empower youth, foster healthy living, and promote strong communities.”

That’s why it hosts safe spaces, where youth can hang out and interact, and programming that instills the Y’s values and other lessons, like how governments work.

That’s why a “wellness” mantra recurs. “When we talk about wellness, we’re not just talking about cardiovascular fitness,” Lacy said. “We’re really talking about overall well-being. Nationally, we have found the Y is a place for seniors to come together. In addition to exercising, they’re getting social wellness. They’re getting human connections. They’re building friendships and relationships.”

The Y also runs two free, evidence-based programs that address major health issues: a diabetes prevention program (exercise, dietary advice and support) and Livestrong (to help “adult cancer survivors reclaim their health and well-being”). And yoga helps with body, mind and spirit.

And sometimes the Y caters to the imagination. Those pickleball courts are being called “flexible cross courts” in Y literature. “They’re multi-use because a piece of asphalt in the field, to children, can only be contained by their own imagination,” Ryan said, noting he was playing pickleball on a Newark pickleball court while children nearby were playing wiffle ball on a pickleball court. The Western Y, he added, has a space that was planned as a roller rink and is “now used for everything you can imagine.”

Want to be a member?

The new Middletown YMCA is being built at 202 E. Cochran St., Middletown. Construction is expected to end by August, with the opening planned in the fall. The YMCA of Delaware will then end operations in its rented facility at 404 N. Cass St., Middletown.

Leaders of the Middletown Y plan to continue to run before- and after-school child care at Cedar Lane Elementary, Lorewood Grove Elementary, Silver Lake Elementary, Townsend Elementary School, Townsend Early Childhood Center and Old State Elementary.

The Cass Street Y is open 87 hours a week. Hour are not yet set for Cochran Street, but the Western and Dover Ys are open 104 hours a week: 5 a.m.-9 p.m. weekdays and 6 a.m.-6 p.m. weekends.

Middletown Y members now can pay a lower rate for limited access or a full rate that allows access to seven Ys throughout Delaware and many more across the country. There are eight categories of full-rate Y memberships, varying by age and household size, ranging from $35 to $118 per month. Once the Cochran Street facility opens, only full-rate memberships will be sold.

Since part of the Y’s mission is to make itself accessible to all, the YMCA of Delaware annually provide $2.5 million in financial assistance, on a sliding scale, for people who can’t pay for membership and other programs, such as summer camps, where a third of campers get financial help.

A page on the new facility ( says the expansion will eventually create 300 jobs. Almost all will be part-time.

Details: 302-6161-9622 and

I’ll just go live at the Y. They know how to take care of me.’

The Middletown YMCA pool is being named for Sam Foster. Here’s what his daughter, Diana Foster-Jones, said at the groundbreaking last spring.

My father, Sam Foster, grew up as a latchkey kid in Wilmington in the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s, well before anyone had invented the term. With an absent father and with money short, the family frequently moved from house to house, but Dad always found a home at the Central YMCA. Primarily he swam and played basketball. Taken under wing by caring adults there, he earned scholarships to Tower Hill and later to Yale.

Despite a prestigious college degree, honorable service in the Navy and the start of a promising career at DuPont, when he announced his plans to marry my mother, his mother disapproved of the match and forced him to leave her house. He moved into the Y and remained there until my parents’ wedding day.

Upon retirement, my parents built a second home in Lewes. Dad then resumed swimming for exercise, trained at the Wilmington and Rehoboth Y’s and competed at state and national levels.

In his later years, Dad developed dementia. Several times a week my mother would drive him to the Rehoboth Y and drop him off. As his cognition further declined, she would sign him in at the front desk and entrust staff and fellow visitors to make sure he made his way to the various amenities he so enjoyed. On numerous visits I had the pleasure of dropping him off and observing for myself how staff treated him with respect, occasionally sending someone into the men's locker room if Dad had not come out at the appointed time. Dad’s special joy was taking long showers and shaving at the Y. He claimed that the lights were much better there than at home. I suspect, however, what he really enjoyed was a moment of feeling independent during the challenges of dementia.

As a final Y story, when my father was especially frustrated at not being able to do what he wanted to do, he would vehemently announce, “I’ll just go live at the Y. They know how to take care of me.”

It is with gratitude that the YMCA had such a special place in my father’s life and heart. It is also with gratitude that the Y continues to be a safe, caring, and nurturing home for the citizens of Delaware, both young and old. Thank you all for the work you do.

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